Getting from Prague to Karlovy Vary
Karlovy Vary sits a little over halfway between Prague and the German border. On German maps it’s called “Carlsbad”. The beautiful 19th Century centre of town sits in a steep valley with the river Tepla (it means “hot”) coming through it. You are coming here either to experience a spa, take medicinal waters or see the Moser Glass Factory. A common souvenir from here is a “Sipping Jug” which is a little miniature jug that you use to hold hot mineral water as you drink.
Tours to Karlovy Vary
The world and his brother seem to offer tours here. Expect a coach trip of two hours each way. So as most providers will offer a trip of around 9.5 or 10 hours you can expect to be in Karlovy Vary for approximately 6 hours. Now it’s a case of what to do so here are some popular options.
The Grayline tour is 10 hours. It includes lunch, the Moser Factory/Shop plus the Thun Porcelain shop. It’s the more structured tour with a bit of free time towards the end. TIP: If you buy from Moser get in the shop as quick as you can as the guide will put a time limit on leaving. Check the Grayline Karlovy Vary Tour
Note: if you like the tour content above then they also do an option that includes a second spa town nearby called Marianske Lazne. Smaller and I think more for local Czechs. It includes, lunch, Moser, Thun but means you accept being bussed around all day i.e. no free time. Check the Karlovy Vary AND Marianske Lazne Tour
The Prague Bus Tours option is 9.5 hours (if you’re wondering why it’s 30 minutes shorter, it’s because they do hotel pickup/drop-off). It’s a simple coach to Karlovy Vary, a short guided tour through the centre up to the Colonnades, some water tasting and lunch. The rest of the trip is your free time (just be back at the pick-up point on time). Check the Prague Bus Tours Karlovy Vary Tour
Staying in Karlovy Vary
In Karlovy Vary you have hotels with wellness facilities and those that don’t. My choice for an overnight or long weekend in a really nice hotel would be the Hotel Ontario in Karlovy Vary (what the Czechs used to call a 3 star superior). If you want the central location, wellness facilities and indoor pool then take a look at the Dvorak Spa and Wellness Hotel.
What’s to See?
Karlovy Vary is a Spa town and always has been. You can add in glass production and casinos as well but the “Spa” part dominates. Coaches normally drop you outside the Hotel Thermal at the train station end. My advice is to walk up the right side of the river bank until you reach Grand Hotel Pupp. Then cross the river and walk back. After 30 minutes you’ll reach the Colonnades. This is where you’ll find the mineral water fountains. TIP: before “taking the waters” you’ll be expected to buy a little ceramic jug (I’m talking like max 10cm tall). These can be a souvenir. The other two places you’ll think about visiting will be the Moser Factory mentioned above as part of an organised tour or the Jan Becher Museum where you can just turn up. Karlovy Vary is the home of Becherovka.
You can get here without using a motorway so you don’t need the sticker. From Prague take signs for the airport and then for Karlovy Vary. You’ll find ample parking much cheaper than Prague parking tariffs. If you take the motorway to Plzen then you’ll need a motorway sticker and driving time should be about 90 minutes either way.
Student Agency (RegioJet) runs a bus service hourly during the day from Prague Florenc. Current cost is 8 Euros (about CZK200). The journey takes 2 hours and you arrive at what is called Karlovy Vary “Terminal” which is adjacent to the Dolni Nadrazi railway station. From there take the signs in the direction of the hospital and when you hit the river turn right.
There is no direct train service from Prague to Karlovy Vary. Accept at least 1 change and you are still looking at just short of a 4 hour trip. My advice is to take the bus.